Sharn Kelly’s office changes daily. As a travelling occupational therapist, working in regional communities from the South Coast to the Snowy Mountains, every day is different.
Occupational therapy services ensure people with disabilities can live their lives to the fullest, something that shouldn’t be restricted to the cities.
Sharn services the needs of regional NSW communities by making home visits. She works with a range of clients, all with unique and varying needs, goals and personal circumstances. Her job is to make adjustments to their environment, modify tasks and build skills so they can meet their goals.
“It all comes back to helping them achieve their occupations (what is meaningful to them),” Sharn said. “Working on motor skills, social skills might be the way they get there.
“I love working in communities and travelling. Sometimes I’m out on someone’s farm, other times I’m in a school or a preschool. I’m working with all ages and abilities, which keep things interesting.”
One day Sharn will be working with children with autism spectrum disorder, developing their social and motor skills, or working on sensory regulation or school readiness. The next, she’s working with detainees, setting up their environment to ensure a successful release and smooth transition back into the community.
“Mondays and Tuesdays I’m usually down the South Coast – around the Tathra/Merimbula/Pambula/Bega area,” Sharn said.
“Then I’m in the Cooma and Jindabyne area two days a week. On Fridays, I’m usually working from home on the farm, just outside Bega.”
The nature of Sharn’s travelling job wouldn’t suit everyone but, as a country woman with a sense of adventure, she feels quite at home anywhere she goes.
More limited transport and healthcare services in some rural areas, means Sharn’s ability to travel can make the difference between accessing occupational health care or going without.
“I knew there were limited services rurally but didn’t realise just how inaccessible these can be until I started working in the community,” Sharn said. “I like that in this role, I can help bridge that gap.
“I also think you get a real understanding of the person’s needs when you see them in their environment – then you can make a mindful decision.”
Sharn grew up in Orange, in the NSW Central West region, and, like many young people finishing high school, didn’t quite know what she wanted to do or where life might take her.
After looking into her options, Sharn chose to study a Bachelor of Health Science at the University of Canberra.
“A lot of people say don’t go to university unless they are 100 per cent certain of what they want to do,” she said.
“But I feel like going to university opens up a lot of opportunities. It wasn’t until I got into that degree that I saw all the different paths I could go down.”
The people she met and rich experiences gained while studying shaped her interest in occupational therapy.
“Initially it was a little daunting – I was doing subjects I’d never done in high school such as chemistry and biology. I thought, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this.
“There’s a lot of change for rural kids because they’re often making that big move, leaving their families for the first time, and learning something new and challenging. But there are heaps of supports available.”
Sharn took every opportunity available during her time at university, securing placements and work experience, and testing out different healthcare professions before finding the right fit.
In the final year of her Masters, she took a placement opportunity in Sweden. This gave Sharn an even greater understanding for her clients.
“I was the one not speaking the language, and having to navigate that.
“It’s helped me understand what life might be like for people from different cultures and who speak languages other than English.
She then went on to study a Master of Occupational Therapy, graduating in mid-2020. And when the opportunity came to join Just Right Therapy Services, a specialist service for regional areas, Sharn didn’t hesitate.
Over the past few years, she has grown her professional practice and refined her craft to bring a unique and valuable skillset to regional NSW.